Written by Jessica Melnychuk
Everyone kept telling Crystal Tite that she would make an amazing doula, but she didn't begin to take it seriously until she saw a segment about doulas on television. She decided that since the idea had come into her life three times, she might as well jump in with both feet.
"I'm doula-ing for love, not money," says Crystal Tite, curled up on the couch in her cozy three-bedroom home in Kensington, as her three kids entertain themselves in the room next door. She is my cousin, and is known as the person in the family who is always moving to the beat of her own drum. However, she had never considered becoming a doula until she first started out; in fact, like many people, she didn't even know what the word meant.
The term doula comes from an Ancient Greek word “doulē,” which has negative connotations in Greece because it originally meant “female slave.” Now, it is used to refer to women who aid in prenatal, labour and post-partum birth support. Unlike midwives, who provide complete medical care to women during childbirth, doulas provide no medical support. Instead, they focus on taking care of the mom-to-be emotionally and physically, at the same time giving her as much information as she needs to make her birth experience a positive one.
There are two types of doulas: birth doulas, who help women in their pre-natal period, during labour and after birth, and post-partum doulas, who help families around the house and get things into a routine after their baby has been born. Tite, 27, has spent the last eight-and-a-half years as a birth doula, enjoying every minute of it.
Being a single working mother makes the job a challenge at times for Tite. “It’s stressful sometimes – just trying to work out all the logistics of where my kids are going to go and when I’m coming back,” she says, “but I’ve never regretted becoming a doula.”
While the job does make for a "crazy lifestyle," such as the on-call work that requires her to be ready at a moment's notice to be there for her client's birth, Tite says it's worth it.
"I think the best part is helping the couples work together," she says, emphasizing that she is not there to take anybody's job away, but simply to provide support and share the knowledge that she has. She says she feels as though she is helping to empower her clients, helping them achieve the birth experience they wished for. She often does simple things in the delivery room to keep the situation at peace, such as holding the mom’s hand and talking to her to calm her down, or going to get a snack for the dad. The main part of her job as a birth doula is to inform the parents about the process, and encourage the mom to just breathe and trust her body.
Tite has always had the sort of calming personality that makes her such a fit for this type of profession. She says she has a natural ability to stay calm in stressful situations, leaving the “freak-outs” for later, and her passion for helping women and babies has always been in her heart. She even played ‘labour’ as a child, laying down on a friend’s driveway and pretending to be a mother-to-be. The jump into becoming a doula wasn’t a drastic change from the personality she had beforehand.
Tite got into the trade rather coincidentally. A decade ago, as a teenager, she supported a friend at the hospital when she had her first baby. She was so calm and collected in the stressful situation that her friend's mother started teasing her about becoming a doula. Tite brushed off the suggestion, never having heard of such a thing. Then, the nurses recommended the position to her, and once again she brushed the suggestion aside.
It wasn't until she saw a television segment about doulas on Calgary’s The Breakfast Show that year that she began to take the career possibility into serious consideration.
"I decided if it knocks three times in my life, I should check it out," she says.
After graduating from high school at 17, and after the three signs had pointed her in a specific direction, Tite began looking into how to be a doula for a living. Only two years later, in 2002, she’d already began to make a career out of it. Not long after that, she had her first child, Nova.
Tite’s passion for women's health is obvious to anyone who knows her, not the least of which is her mother.
"She's always made a real effort to have peace in her life," says her mother, Marjorie Aucoin. "It's a concerted, intentional thing that she does."
One thing that Tite does intentionally to maintain peace in her life and stay grounded is a nightly ritual between her and her three kids. The four of them will sit in a circle before bedtime, light a candle, and tell each other what the best part of their day was. It's one of the ways Tite makes an effort to focus on the positive aspects of life.
Tamara Lacelle, Tite's friend and fellow doula, agrees that Tite's calm and collected personality is admirable, but notes that she has another side to her personality that allows her to adapt well to any situation.
“At the time, if you're looking for someone deep, spiritual and intellectual, she can be that,” says Lacelle. “But on the other side, if you're looking for someone to laugh with you a bit, entertain and lighten the mood, she can definitely do that too. She's sort of an invaluable person to have in your life in that way, because she's so in-tune to people.”
Looking at Tite for the first time, one could definitely sense a unique vibe from her. With her pierced lip, tongue and nose, and all of the natural items found in her household – she keeps mostly organic food in her house, and wouldn't even eat Cool Whip at her cousin's baby shower – it would be hard to find another soul exactly like her.
Depending on her Canon SLR camera to help her get the job done, Tite photographs the labour and birthing experience as much as her clients wish her to. She's managed to reach a balance between documenting the experience through pictures and still being there to hold the mom-to-be’s hand if needed.
Chelsea Bender, the friend that Tite went with to the hospital as a teenager, says she couldn't possibly have had as great of an experience with either of her births if her friend hadn't been there with her, and hopes to have Tite there with her for any future births.
“I would more than happily welcome another doula,” says Bender, “but I think no matter what, any child I have, Crystal’s going to be the one that’s there.” Bender adds that Tite not only helped keep her calm, but calmed her mother as well.
“She sat there right beside me, held my hand, she calmed my mom down, and the very first thing my mom said to Crystal when it was all done was, ‘man, you should do this for a living’.”
Tite didn't become a doula right away. She had to go through a certification process with Doulas of North America (DONA) International, part of which involves her attending three births and getting feedback from clients, nurses, and doctors or midwives. She says the hands-on experience is the best way for a beginning doula to learn the trade, and the mentorship with a more experienced doula ensures that the new doula isn't going in completely blind.
Unlike midwifery, which has been supported by the Alberta government since April 2009, the doula profession is completely private and has no affiliation with Alberta Health. The doulas are privately hired, and clients pay for the services themselves.
According to Tite, the current fee in Calgary for an experienced doula can range anywhere from about $500 to $1,100, depending on the level of experience the doula has. AJ Appleton, current president of the more than decade-old Calgary Doula Association, says there is definitely an increase in demand for doulas here in Calgary.
“It’s growing in leaps and bounds,” she says. “When I joined the association about five years ago, we had about 18 doulas; now we have almost 70.” Appleton notes that there are various other doula associations in Calgary, and while the demand is high, waiting lists are not yet an issue.
“If a woman approaches us and wants a doula,” she says, “we do our utmost to make sure she gets that support.”
Lacelle says she doesn't mind the lack of government support for doulas in Alberta, and is happy that her job as it is now allows her to be free to practice without "big brother" looking over her shoulder. Tracey Stein, a friend of Tite’s and fellow doula, agrees, saying she is glad she does not have an "agenda."
"It's a double-edged sword," says Lacelle. "On one hand, it would be great to have more government support, because then perhaps you could get funding, and it would open up doula services to more women who need it, or at least make it easier so that we could have more doulas to provide the service."
She worries, though, about the restrictions and regulations that would come along with government support. She likes the freedom that comes with less government control, and says that it allows doulas to be more open to allowing flexibility with some clients. "It doesn't matter if [the client] can pay or not," Lacelle says. “We always work out something so that if a woman wants support she can have support.”
Tite agrees with Lacelle, saying that although there would definitely be benefits to the government being more involved with doulas, it’s nice to have a little bit of freedom.
“It’s nicer for us to be able to do what we feel is best and not have somebody’s hands – who doesn’t understand the profession – mucking around in there and changing things for us,” Tite says.
She adds that most doulas are not in it for the money – since there isn’t a whole lot of money to be made anyway. When she was practicing full-time, Tite would tend to make about $3,000 per month.
Now, Tite is scaling back from doula-ing. With three kids at home (Nova, 7, Faeryn, 5, and Indigo, 2), it became too difficult for her to maintain the on-call lifestyle. (The children’s father is not currently involved a lot in their lives.) Doulas are required to be on-call for up to five weeks prior to the mom-to-be's due date, and trying to find child care for her kids on a moment's notice – sometimes in the middle of the night – was getting too tough for Tite.
Now, she is mostly only doula-ing for friends and family members at no cost. She works three days per week as a community support worker at Calgary Alternative Support Services, helping people with disabilities. As for the rest of her time, she’s enjoying it with her little ones. "I'm just [doula-ing] for love, for people who I love," she says.
Tite says she doesn’t plan on going back to being a full-time doula, but only because she has her sights set on midwifery. It’ll take a few more years before that becomes a possibility, though, as more training will be necessary.
“I think midwives do a great job at looking at the whole woman,” says Tite, “and for me, I just want to get more involved in that. Sometimes as a doula, it’s too late for me to be able to help my client the way I want to, because I can’t provide them with medical advice or my opinion, even.”
Tite says one of the main reasons she wants to transition from being a doula to becoming a midwife is because she wants to be more involved in the entire education of babies and pregnancy. She says she wants to help women learn to trust their bodies, and to know that the baby knows what he or she is doing.
“Everything works itself out,” says Tite. “You just have to trust the process – trust the process of birth, the process of life – everything happens for a reason, and you just kind of have to go with the flow.”